The following comments from an Indiana voter just before the recent historic primary election there illustrate how eager most americans are to participate actively in the democratic process provided that they are confident that their vote and their voice wields real power. However, the current power structure of our representative government strives at every opportunity to squelch the voice of the voters, thereby leaving them with the perception that they are impotent within their own (so called) democracy. This in turn generates the apathy among the populus that serves to perpetuate that undemocratic power structure. This 2008 election is inspiring in that it has seemingly broken that cycle more than any election in recent memory. Voters have a sense that their vote does matter this time, and can make a real difference. They are voting in record numbers, most notably on the Democratic side, and thanks in great part to the inspiration that the Obama campaign has generated. This momentum and increased democratic participation must not be squandered and forgotten on election day in November, but must instead be nourished and increased further by the next administration in Washington. The people's voice in government must be amplified, and real power to legislate and decide policy put in the hands of the populus. If we have any hope of achieving true democracy in this country, and of wrestling our future from the corrupt forces that have usurped our democracy for their own financial gain and pursuit of personal power, it will be through direct democracy allowing a government "of, for and by the people" to flourish. - Editor
By Sandy Sasso
There is a palpable excitement across Indiana on this Election Day. Finally, Hoosiers have been saying with evident pride, "We count! It's not just about New York and California. It is about us!"
While the Democratic Party may have wished for a less contentious contest, for an earlier resolution, Indiana residents are pleased to have been given, for once, a decisive voice. For the first time most of us can remember, our votes matter in a presidential primary. Candidates are listening, paying attention to local concerns from Gary to Evansville, Richmond to Terre Haute. And truth be told, it feels good. Polls indicate that more Hoosiers will be voting in this primary than in any other. As a consequence, state and local contests will benefit as well.
It is a sense of enfranchisement that makes for an involved citizenry. This year's renewed excitement in the democratic process speaks volumes for a revision of the primary system. Allowing for a less protracted and more equitable primary season would cost less money and engage more people. It might even reduce acrimony by requiring candidates to focus primarily on political, social and economic concerns and not on negative personal recriminations. Such an electoral process should allow for all states to feel equally empowered in each party's selection of its presidential nominee. The question on all of our minds is: Will the candidates still be attentive to Indiana's concerns tomorrow?
But perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from this year's political enthusiasm is the belief that our voices do matter, that individual citizens can make a difference, that democracy works best when we take seriously our responsibility to effect change, help to shape and influence the quality of our communities.
In the end, the substance and tone of a campaign are determined by our involvement and our indifference, by what we are willing to tolerate or what we are not, by our questions and our expectations. The quality of a campaign is shaped not only by what the candidates bring to the table, but what the electorate demands. In the end, good government isn't just about the decisions of leaders, but about an involved citizenry that holds officials accountable.
We are told that we are to think globally and to act locally. Even as we advocate for governmental action on global warming, let us be attentive to our own habits of wasteful consumerism and exploitation of natural resources. Even as we lobby for fair and just immigration legislation, let us treat our neighbors and the strangers in our midst with dignity and respect. Even as we call for health-care reform, let us promote healthy behaviors and wellness. Even as we require social and educational policies that are attentive to the most vulnerable among us, let us join in partnership with others who seek to raise the quality of life for all our neighborhoods.
In a participatory democracy government and communities, organizations and individuals work hand in hand. Private interest cannot be indifferent to the public good.
The key expectation for the new administration is for a sea of change, for sweeping waves of new directions. But real renewal is not only about making waves but about creating ripples. Each of us has a contribution to make. When one person throws a single pebble into a serene lake, it makes ripples that extend in all directions, far beyond the point of entry. As we move from May to November, may our new sense of enfranchisement in the democratic process move us to make both waves and ripples.
Sasso is senior rabbi at Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis.